Slavery has long been eradicated.
The Trail of Tears occurred more than a century ago. Prisoner camps
for Japanese-Americans are a distant memory. Civil rights legislation
of the 1960s did much to change bias that carried legal weight.
But while laws have changed, some
hearts havent. Leading Assemblies of God officials say merely
tolerating people who look different isnt really what Jesus had
in mind. On Intercultural Ministries Day, they remind the Fellowship
that Christianity isnt restricted to white conservative Americans.
"Shaking hands with people
who are culturally different is not the same as embracing them in true
friendship," says Stephen R. Tourville, director of Intercultural
Ministries for the A/G. "The early church blossomed because of
koinonia, or fellowship."
The Intercultural Ministries Department
educates members of the Assemblies of God about the rapidly changing
ethnic distinctions within the nation and within the church. The United
States has changed markedly in the past decade, according to the Census
Bureau. In 1990, whites comprised 73 percent of the population; now
they represent only 67 percent. In the same span Hispanics grew to 12.5
percent from 9 percent of the population.
"We are not a monocultural
nation anymore," says David J. Moore, commissioner of ethnic relations
for the A/G. "The fact is this country is not a melting pot. Its
a mosaic that has retained distinctives."
Today, 28 percent of A/G congregations
are considered ethnic minority or immigrant churches, compared to 19
percent a decade ago. Tourville is excited about the ethnic diversification
of the United States.
"God is bringing people from
around the world to America and it isnt an accident," Tourville
says. "God is giving the church of Jesus Christ the opportunity
to share the gospel with many people who have come from countries where
it has been blocked."
Sometimes non-geographical barriers
remain in the United States. Tourville says many Caucasians fail to
understand that those from other ethnic backgrounds often regard Christianity
as a white religion. In the past, evangelical churches too often have
had a paternalistic attitude in requiring conformity to worship styles,
service times and modes of attire, Tourville and Moore say. Non-whites
still may sense a more subtle form of discrimination.
"Inadvertently we have pushed
our culture as well as our faith," Tourville says.
Non-whites tend to form their own
congregations, Moore says, because they are only infrequently encouraged
to integrate in white churches. "Its one thing to say that
we welcome ethnic minorities," Moore says. "Its another
thing to demonstrate it."
Tourville agrees that Christians
need to move beyond awareness of other cultures to acceptance and inclusion.
"We are willing to have people who are different from us attend
church, but are they allowed to actually participate as leaders?"
Meanwhile, Tourville says Christians
should evangelize those in their neighborhoods, even if there are ethnic
"We want to help pastors and
congregations to develop a sense of urgency in reaching culturally distinct
groups with indigenous churches," Tourville says. "The best
way to reach people is to go where they are. Jesus didnt command
the world to come to us."